RURAL HOUSING:

AREAS OF AMBIGUITY

"Cumulatively, the potential opportunity now exists to provide up to a maximum 865 square metres of residential floorspace"

One of the most subtle, but potentially significant changes, relates to rural exception sites. Paragraph 54 of the current NPPF identifies how planning authorities should consider whether allowing some market housing would facilitate the provision of significant additional affordable housing. There is, however, no definition as to what is classed as ‘significant’ affordable housing. The emphasis on the provision of a ‘significant’ amount of affordable housing is removed in the draft NPPF. In our view, this subtle revision responds to changes in the way affordable housing is funded by the Government and associated difficulties in relation to viability and delivery in rural areas. The change has the potential to unlock a variety of rural sites, particularly those which may have previously been deemed unviable.

The draft NPPF also introduces a requirement for plans to identify opportunities for rural villages to grow and thrive, particularly where this will support local services. In our view, this change, along with the proposed requirement that at least 20% of sites identified for housing in Local Plans are half a hectare or less, recognises that a degree of development, and the associated increase in population, is required to ensure villages are capable of sustaining local services. This in turn will help increase the sustainability of a rural location. The change will potentially require local planning authorities to identify more sites for development in rural areas that have previously been resisted due to their position with the settlement hierarchy, which is deemed to have represented an unsustainable location.

The Government have also sought to further promote housing in rural areas by making changes to permitted development rights (Class Q - agricultural to residential). The most recent changes, introduced on 6th April 2018, permit the conversion of agricultural buildings within a holding to provide three larger dwellings with a total floorspace of 465m2, or up to five smaller dwellings each with no more than 100m2 of floor space. However, cumulatively the potential opportunity now exists to provide up to a maximum 865m2 of residential floorspace i.e. one large dwelling at 465m2 along with 4 smaller dwellings at 100m2. This represents a significant increase from the previous maximum area that could be converted, which was a cumulative floor space of 450m2, and a maximum of 3 dwelling houses.

The National Planning Policy Guidance (the NPPG) has also been updated in an effort to provide clarity as to which agricultural buildings can be converted to residential use under permitted development rights (PDR). This update seeks to reflect recent case law, notably Hibbett v Secretary of State (2016), which highlighted the difference between a ‘conversion’ and a ‘re-build’. The updated NPPG confirms that the Class Q permitted development rights allow building operations that are reasonably necessary to enable the converted building to function as a dwelling house, and, importantly, confirms that the installation of a floor and the insertion of a mezzanine or upper floors, is not prohibited by Class Q.

The need for these types of work had previously been used by some Local Planning Authorities to refuse applications for Prior Approval for Class Q conversions, so this clarification is particularly helpful. However, in our view, significant areas of ambiguity remain, and as a result, we anticipate that different interpretations of what constitutes permitted development will continue to exist between local planning authorities and developers.

 

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